Monday, September 30, 2013

Hike 2013.048 -- Calico Hills Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, September 28. Fall flowers are in bloom! The temperature was also a perfect mid-70s, sunny, with light winds. It's one of those relatively rare days in Las Vegas where you think this place is just perfect for the outdoor enthusiast.

Although I've hiked in Red Rock Canyon probably a dozen times or more over the years, I don't think I ever actually did the Calico Hills Trail. It always seemed like this trail would be too crowded and not challenging enough, so I usually tried something with a bigger climb and a longer distance from the road. So it was that, on this day, I figured I might as well do a hike I had never done before.

Turns out Saturday was National Public Lands Day, which meant free admission to federal lands that charge an entry fee. This might have led to slightly larger than usual crowds. It also rendered my America the Beautiful pass moot. Oh, well.

The south end of the Calico Hills Trail starts just inside the fee station for Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. It's on the right side of the road, and there's a large sign there. It indicates 1.5 miles to the visitor center,

There's no parking there, so you'll probably park up near the visitor center. Where ever you park, you'll head down through the lowest level of parking, and find a small "Trail" sign heading downhill, towards the visitor center. There are a few road crossings before you pop out near the sign for the Calico Trails System. The sign says it's 1.5 miles to the visitor center, 1.1 miles to Calico I, 2.0 miles to Calico II, and 3 miles to Sandstone Quarry (where I started my hike to Turtlehead Peak, back in March). The 1.5 to the visitor center would be via a looping route, which branches off near Calico I. It does not count the 1/4 to 1/2 mile down from the visitor center it would take to get down to this trailhead, so the full loop is between 2.25 and 2.5 miles.

As you may immedi-ately suspect, nearly all of this trail is within sight or sound of the main Red Rock Canyon loop road. That's part of why I never took it before. But, today, I was feeling good about my choice. As soon as I drove in, I saw a carpet of small yellow flowers near the entrance, and this trail was going to let me walk right among that carpet. They formed a nice foreground to either the hills across Blue Diamond Road from where I stood, or all the way across the drainage, at the Rainbow Mountains, or up towards the Calico Hills and Turtlehead Peak.

As I walked, a steady flow of cars headed up the road, on my left. I wondered if they knew a trail was here, just a few feet from where they were driving, and the view of the flowers was so much better, here?

Meanwhile, ahead of me, I repeatedly saw the red sandstone of the Calico Hills. As I got closer to them, they covered more and more of Turtlehead Peak, and the La Madre Mountains, beyond. The twisted, stacked sedimentary layers were also obvious, and one can only imagine the amount of uplifting and folding that must have occurred over the years. This must be a very geologically active place here, that's for sure.

As the trail approaches Calico I, the road is not 15 feet to your left. Many people are parking (illegally) right along the road, and walking across to near the trail to look upon the Calico Hills. On the hills are a number of rock climbers. They all seem to be tied down, which is good. However, I rarely watch rock climbers, because I'm afraid I'll see one fall.

Nonetheless, at Calico I, the trail briefly heads directly down from the road towards the cliff, and the rock climbers are right in front of you and impossible to miss. After about 100 feet of this drop, the Calico Hills trail bears to the left, paralleling the road and the cliffs.

In this section, the trail runs near the base of the V-shaped canyon. The road is well above you, on your left. The cliffs are even higher above you, on the right. On both sides, numerous wildflowers bloomed in this somewhat-shaded area of valley. And, in an occasional spot, was pooled water from the unusually heavy rains of September.

The largest of these pools was right near the trail that headed back up towards the road, at Calico II.

Right around here, I feel I lost the official trail. I'm not sure if I should have headed somewhat up towards Calico II here to catch the real trail. Instead, I went downward, following a trail that dropped to the very bottom of the canyon. It crisscrossed the dry stream bed a few times, and it seemed to me this was no longer the trail. But since it was near where I thought I might turn around, I was not concerned.

I made my way up one of the drainages, picking my way to the top. I passed wonderful red-orange sandstone, some of it carved into little arches and alcoves.

Once at the top of a decent cliff, I stopped, drank and ate some, rested, then turned back. On my return trip, I mostly just retraced my steps, except near the end. There, rather than heading down towards the entry station, I took a more direct route towards the visitor center. I'll estimate about 5.25 to 5.5 miles for the day.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hike 2013.046: Aspen Grove to Fish Creek Meadows

Hiked Friday, September 13. I've got two other hikes that I still need to blog. They're repeat hikes, however, with nothing unusual to report. Also, on one of them, I forgot to insert the SD card into my camera. Those blogs, if written, will be pretty brief.

In the meantime, this is just not my year for hiking. I scheduled Friday off a few weeks back, with the intent of going on a hike. And, obviously, I did. But I kept it short, 'cause I was feeling pretty lousy. I've spent the last three days mostly laying down, trying to get over this cold before the work week starts.

It's about a month too early for this hike, but I wanted to scout the area ahead of time, to see what might have changed in the three years since I was last here.

Specific directions to this trailhead are included in my older post, so go there for driving directions.

Today, I got myself a Wilderness permit so that I would be legally allowed to hike beyond the aspen grove. Without a Wilderness permit, you are technically in violation of the law to be standing in the aspen grove, though it appears they have no problem with allowing people to proceed to the grove without a permit.

Also, unlike two years ago, you no longer require an Adventure Pass to park at the Aspen Grove trailhead.

Incidentally, if driving on a narrow dirt road does not appeal to you, you have two alternatives that would obviate the need for going off-pavement, but do add between 3/4 and 1 mile each way of walking to the trip. Given the short hike involved, this should not be a deal killer.

The more obvious alternative is just at the split of 1N05 from 1N02. A signed marker for the Santa Ana River Trail is there. After a half-mile heading west on the Santa Ana River Trail, you'd turn left, on to the equestrian trail, and take that another 1/2 mile southwest, to the Aspen Grove Trail. There's also an unsigned but perhaps reasonably easy to identify equestrian trail that crosses 1N02, about 1/4 before the 1N05/1N02 split. This latter trail connects the equestrian campground with with trail to the aspen grove. Both trails are shown on the little half-page handout for the Aspen Grove Trail that they have at the visitor center, so I assume they mean this to be the alternative for folks who don't want to take their cars off-pavement. I did not actually walk those trails this day, however.

Once at the official trailhead, it's maybe 1/3 of a mile to the crossing of Fish Creek. The Aspen Grove is on the other side of Fish Creek.

As of Friday (September 13), the aspen had no hint of yellow, so I assume peak color is at least three weeks away (depending on weather, of course). I intend to make a return trip in 3-4 weeks.

Because I was not expecting the aspen to be in color yet, I intended to hike a bit further along the trail today. I picked as my destination "Fish Creek Meadows," because it would give me a just over 2 miles of distance for the day, and seemed to hold some promise for scenery.

In practice, however, Fish Creek Meadows was dis-appointing. It's a willow meadow, rather than a grassy meadow, so it was not the saturated green I was hoping for. This is the lower portion of Fish Creek Meadows. As mentioned earlier, I was too tired to be willing to hike any further on this day.

The Tom Harrison map of the San Gorgonio Wilderness gives the distance from the Aspen Grove Trailhead to junction with the trail to Fish Creek Meadows as 2 miles. From the junction to the start of Fish Creek meadows seem s to be about 1/3 of a mile, so I'm giving today's hike distance as 4.7 miles (roughly 2.33 miles each way).

It was pleasantly cooler at the 8,000 foot level than it was down in town, so it was a pleasant, if too short, break from city life.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Hike 2013.043 -- Lake Hollywood (Hollywood Reservoir), Southwest of Griffith Park

Hiked Saturday, August 31. Unbelievably, it's been over three months since I saw a story in the L.A. Times that the closed section of trail around "Lake" Hollywood was now open. When I hiked this area last year, the trail along the west side of the lake was closed, due to a landslide.

I began my hike near Gate 2, which is at the base of the hill, along Lake Hollywood Drive. From the Hollywood Freeway (U.S. 101), head north from Los Angeles, and take the Barham Blvd exit. The exit will deposit you on Cahuenga Blvd, which you'll take north about 1 mile. When you reach a light, that'll be Barham. Turn right. The second light will be Lake Hollywood Drive. A big blue sign will be hanging from that light, so it's almost impossible to miss.

The most direct way to the lake from there is to take the first left, which is La Suvida Drive. After about 1000 feet, La Suvida re-intersects with Lake Hollywood Drive. Make a slight left there to get back on to Lake Hollywood Drive (If you had just stayed straight on Lake Hollywood Drive, this would also have gotten you here, but that way's a little narrower and somewhat longer).

Once back on Lake Hollywood Drive, the third right (just *after* Wonder View Drive) is, again, Lake Hollywood Drive. This'll take you down a rather steep road. When the descent ends, you'll be near Gate 2.

Two porta-potties were here, and two more were immediately east of Lower Lake Hollywood Reservoir Dam, not quite halfway through this hike. (There's also access from the east side of the dam, at the end of Weidlake Drive. However, getting there would require a lot of turns on small streets).

Access through Gate 2 and the other gated access points is only during the hours listed in the picture at the end of this post.

As you pass through Gate 2, a chain link fence is on your left. It will be there for pretty much your entire walk, except for the part that crosses Lower Hollywood Reservoir Dam.

Despite the fence, this "hike" is generally very relaxing. It's all on asphalt, and you'll have lots of company, but actually less company than you'd find if you were heading up Mt. Lee or Mt. Hollywood, for example. Also, the curving, wood-lined path keeps visibility short, so even with people nearby, you can still get a feeling of privacy during much of your walk.

Upper Hollywood Reservoir is the first thing you see. There's a rather classic-looking intake structure across the reservoir.

Very expensive homes are on your right. The homes become more obvious further down this western end of the reservoir, where you see what must have been extremely expensive retaining structures built as the road was cleared of a mudslide.

Next up is Lower Hollywood Reservoir. Nice views through the trees of the reservoir, which make an unusual foreground for the many pictures of the Hollywood Sign you will undoubtedly take.

The lower dam is a concrete arch dam. On the back side of the dam are what are supposed to be grizzly bear heads. They don't look very ursine to me, though.

Lots of turtles and a few waterfowl are in or on the water. For the size of the lake, the number of waterfowl may be surprisingly low. I assume that's because there aren't any fish. At least, I don't think there are any fish.

Although I saw no deer here today, I have seen many in the past. For much of the hike, I kept my longer telephoto lens on my camera, just in case I did see any deer. It was an unnecessary precaution.

Once on the east side of the dam, you're again winding your way between a fence and some trees, and expensive homes are again on your right. You're also approaching the Hollywood Sign. You can get even closer if you drive up Tahoe Drive, which is where this trail next reaches a public access point.

Before you get there, there's an extended area where the local gutters must drain down towards the reservoir. There's about a 200 yard segment with seeping water and pretty much permanent flowing water. That area's become stream-like, with stream-like plants and dragon flies buzzing around and claiming territory. I don't know if the water is there year-round, and if the next generation of dragon flies will be able to rise out of the mud, though.

Once at the corner of Tahoe Drive and Lake Hollywood Drive, the rest of the walk is along a roadside. It's relatively busy, with lots of out of state plates and cars loaded with tourists looking for a close approach to the Hollywood Sign.

I don't begrudge that, but I do get annoyed when people who don't know where they're going don't just pull over for a while and get their bearings. Driving slowly and unpredictably is annoying and dangerous.

The gates to this trail open at 6:30am. They close at different times, depending on the month. Check the previous picture for the hours. There's also a map near the Tahoe Drive entrance, which says it's 3.3 miles to walk the perimeter of the lake. However, if you add the distance for the three segments it displays, it would actually be 3.4 miles. Also, I had to walk up and down an additional 1/8th of a mile each way, since I was parked a bit away from Gate 2. Thus, I'm sure I made at least 3.4 miles for the day. Very little altitude change, so it was a pretty easy 3.4 miles. No dogs are permitted on this trail. Other rules are on the sign in this picture, as well.